KidsCan - The pilot programme supporting underprivileged preschoolers

Published on Wednesday, 22 May 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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It's tempting to think of toddlers and preschoolers as picky eaters and reluctant raincoat-wearers, but the sad reality is a large group of under fives are going without food and suitable clothing – and it's not by choice. Poverty means many youngsters are hungry, wet and cold in New Zealand, but there is some heart-warming news.

A charity called KidsCan provides food, shoes, socks, raincoats and health items to school children, and they are currently running a pilot programme to support around 950 needy under fives in early childhood centres in Northland, Auckland and Hawke's Bay.

What does poverty mean for young New Zealanders?

According to KidsCan, 290,000 Kiwi children live in poverty, with one in five living with food insecurity. Specifically, Waikato University researchers surveyed 325 whānau before the KidsCan programme started and found that:

  • 35 per cent were using special food grants or food banks
  • 37 per cent go without fresh fruit and vegetables often
  • 26 per cent continued to wear shoes with holes because they couldn't replace them
  • 35 per cent of children didn't have their own raincoat

These are chilling statistics, given that hunger and hardship can have long-term effects on children's health and wellbeing, development and future success.

Child development expert, Nathan Willis, says childhood is when much of the brain's development is taking place and that going hungry as a preschooler can have lifetime effects.

Mr Willis told Stuff that although emotional connection, 'Really drives the development of their brain, food is fundamental.' This is because when a child is hungry, their 'survival brain', the brain stem that takes care of basic functions like breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure and sleeping, is engaged, at the expense of their 'intelligent brain', the learning part of the brain.

Lack of food can also have an effect on children's day-to-day ability to concentrate, move with energy and socialise well at child care. While 'food shame' results in some children being kept home from care because their parents are embarrassed about their inability to send a proper lunch with them.

Why has the KidsCan early childhood programme come about?

School children have been given KidsCan support since 2005, its services did not previously extend to children at early childhood centres.

KidsCan founder and CEO, Julie Chapman told Te Ao that, 'There's been no programme to nourish our tiniest bodies and provide the warm clothing and shoes they are missing. Children don't suddenly find themselves in poverty when they turn 5 – and a lack of investment in them means they're on the back foot before they even start school.'

This has changed, though, with the launch of the KidsCan pilot early childhood programme, which came about in response to increasing requests from early childhood centres.

With reports of preschoolers arriving at centres hungry, stealing other children's food out of desperation, biting, fighting or being unusually quiet, many educators have seen first-hand the effects of poverty on young children.

You can read some of their personal experiences here and here as parents struggle to make ends meet and provide enough food or warm clothing for their little ones.

What does the KidsCan early childhood programme offer?

In response to these challenges, the KidsCan under-fives programme provides young children with fresh meals, raincoats, shoes and head lice treatment.

At Anne West Kindergarten in Kaitaia, the KidsCan programme provides lunch and other basic necessities to the children every weekday. Countdown supermarket delivers ingredients for three days' worth of meals, which are cooked up by a volunteer whose grandchildren attend the centre, and the Subway food chain provides sandwiches on the other two days.

Already, KidsCan has seen a significant change in children who are part of the programme; and to get a firm sense of its impact on children's participation, wellbeing, health, education and school readiness, Waikato University is evaluating the programme in a study that will go until September 2020.

How can you support KidsCan's work with under-fives?

KidsCan aims to roll out the early childhood programme nationwide, but it needs donations to make this possible.

To support this cause, all you need to do is go to You can make a one-off donation, support a child from $30 a month, launch a fund-raising event or even partner with KidsCan if you're a decision-maker in a company.

After all, with the right nutrition and basic necessities, under fives will learn, grow and prosper.

Te Ao: Māori News

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